the south coast is on the east coast; in a directionally-challenged country

plus, kangaroos for breakfast, parrots for lunch, and a rusty jinker

if you — a foreigner– were asked to look at a map of australia and guess which is the south coast, you might be tempted to guess it’s the one that runs along the southern edge of the country.

in which case you would be wrong!

in our quest to get to know our host country, we’re making regular reconnaissance trips. our first february excursion was to the south coast. we drove east.

perhaps a little context is in order. canberra –where we live– is an enclave completely surrounded by new south wales, australia’s most populous state. according to its internet page, new south wales…

“borders queensland to the north, victoria to the south, and south australia to the west.”

get that? victoria is to the south, south australia is to the west. and the south coast is to the east.

it gets worse, but this is no place for a geography lesson. this is about going to the beach.

our destination was north durras, which we’re happy to report is north of south durras. it’s a short walk to the murramarang national park, where we found two ancient beachfront rainforests on the mend after the beating they took from last year’s bush fires.

the abundance of green is encouraging, but it will be a while before the canopy grows back, making them function like rainforests again.

the birds are coming back, too. maybe a bit too much. we rented a little b&b-b (bed and beach, no breakfast). we were sitting out on the deck overlooking the ocean shortly after arriving when a handsome king parrot appeared on the railing next to my shoulder, looked me in the eye and began grumbling. i know grumble when i hear it.

“i’m cute,” he grumbled. “where’s my dinner?” then he flew to a nearby tree, expectantly.

pernille had noticed that there was a ziploc bag of seeds in the house, so she poured some onto a plate, and presto! we were popular again. our new pal returned in a flash, and the noisy crack-crack of his beak crunching open the shells was his acknowledgement that we had correctly interpreted his direction. we’re very trainable.

apparently, word spread fast through the animal kingdom. the next morning we not only witnessed a procession of parrots along the railing, but a mama kangaroo and her joey (youngster) were standing quietly in the front garden. they were shy at first, lurking behind a bush, but when i started peeling a banana, mama put aside her inhibitions.

i got the message. so i walked down the three steps and handed her my banana peel. she took it tentatively. then joey came up and demanded a bite. she let him have a taste. they both stood and chewed for a bit, then joey changed the subject.

“c’mon mom, let’s wrestle”, he pleaded, giving her a playful whacka-a-mom slap in the mouth. she responded with a good smack up-side the head, and soon the lure of food gave way to a good-natured game of kangaroo patty-cake. (anyone remember patty-cake?)

just as a test, i went to the kitchen, fished pernille’s banana peel out of the trash and offered it to them. mama roo scrunched up her nose. “no thanks,” she grumbled. i could almost hear her whiny voice saying, “we’re not fond of peels,” as she turned her head away.

and she bounded off, followed closely by little roo. i’m now advised feeding roos is poor form. it upsets their tummies.

next was the winged invasion, right out of alfred hitchcock. as lunch time approached, our fine feathered friends were lined up like aircraft waiting their turn at the runway.

the pecking order: parrots, then cuckoo doves, until the cockatoos arrive

the parrots led the charge, of course. with their bright crimson heads and forest green wing and tail feathers they look like they should be perched on captain hook’s shoulder. these rascals invited themselves to the table, and almost made off with the cheese before we asserted what little authority we could muster.

one of these little characters seemed to take a shine to a red solo cup. another one had an eye on my beer.

after lunch the parrots yielded to a team of cuckoo doves, which are really nothing more than pigeons with stunning brown- orange plumage.

then, the big bullies moved in; the sulfur-crested cockatoos that are destroying the trees in our canberra back yard, snapping off twigs and covering the deck with the detritus of the nuts they’re scavenging. when these scoundrels touched down, all the other birds fled.

in their defense, they are handsome devils, pure white with a sulfurous yellow hook-like crest accenting their “black and white TV” appearance. but the sulfur is a throwback to their origins in the nether world, and their ear-piercing screech is like a woman being hacked to pieces by a homicidal maniac in a hitchcock movie. beyond obnoxious.

what we were hoping to see, however, was the elusive lyre bird, so named because its elaborate tail feathers resemble the musical instrument of the same name. and as we were out on an afternoon walk, there he was, shaking a tail feather right in our faces.

this bird sounds like a liar to me

the bbc’s david attenborough has documented how the lyre bird can mimic almost any sound, from a chainsaw to a human voice.

birds we had expected, but our next discovery was a real surprise: the remains of a jinker.

fortunately, a sign told us this was not just junk metal lying in the forest, but a piece of history.

there was a time when this forest produced the finest spotted gum trees, prized for their height and the flexibility of their timber; brilliant for ship building and railroad sleeper cars. but how to get these massive trees to market? look closely at the pictures. jinkers were carts with giant wheels pulled by bullock or horse teams. timber from these trees made australia a prime shipbuilder in the early 20th century. and australian railway cars were the gold standard in luxury.

this being groundhog day (more or less), i was surprised to see my shadow, which i hope signifies six more weeks of summer. or maybe six weeks of summer, since we’ve hardly had any summery weather. we’d been told about the furious australian sun. “in a sunburned country” in the famous title of a book by bill bryson, who apparently already wrote the definitive australian travelogue. (so why do i bother?) but we’ve gone through december and january and a good bit of february and we still keep a sweater handy. hats we wear to keep warm as much as to guard against ultraviolent rays.

spectacular waves break over rocks at the gorgeous depot beach, a short hike from north durras

so yes, we went to the beach, but no swim. too darn cold. i waded out on a sandbar at one point, but the water never touched my knees. it’s high summer now and the forecast for the next week is for high temps of between 21-29 celsius (70-84 fahrenheit), and lows in the low teens (mid 50s) with substantial winds in canberra. good sleeping weather.

so g’day, mates who’ve stayed with the story this long.

five months here and i’m still trying to develop an aussie ear so i can tell the difference between the “a” in g’day mate and the “i” in vegemite.

i’m often asked, “how d’ya like the vegemate, mite?” it taistes grite.

and i can still see ya with my g’deye.

free the tree

one last note. this tree at north durras has been at the same spot for years. so many captions come to mind. but haven’t found the right one. suggestions?


  1. Francis Heinlein says:

    Dear   Peter,                  I  did enjoy this post.   I did get a bit  dizzy trying to figure out the geography of the area.  It is  different.  The birds are beautiful.    It was  entertaining.           I love  you           MOM


    1. your comments mean a lot to me. thanks so much. love you too. p


  2. Dennis Stein says:

    Pete, Great travelogue….I too spent a great deal of time in Oz opening up a new division for our company. While I was centrally located in Sydney I spent time in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Cairns, the Gold Coast, and Adelaide…..beautiful country and wonderful, fun loving, people. I made many good friends and would love to go back some day. Take care and enjoy the “Sunburned Country”…..loved that book. Dennis Stein


    1. yep, this place is hard to beat. thanks for your comment, dennis. hope you are thriving. cheers. pete


      1. Dennis Stein says:

        Pete, what is your wife doing that takes you to Oz?


      2. my wife is the danish ambassador to australia. we’re very lucky


  3. rich says:

    great post. keep them coming. i also have a hard time understand the language from down under. have a pal who was born in australia now lives in the philapines.



    1. thanks so much, rich. i’m having fun doing this blog. glad to know it’s appreciated.
      cheers. pete


  4. John Trollinger says:

    As always, Pete, well worth the read. Thanks for the entertaining and useful information from your Australia 101 course. Truly fascinating.


    1. yep, this is definitely oz 101. thanks for your kind words.


  5. deplorablefriends says:

    Seeing Australia’s burned out forests gives hope Texas will soon make a comeback after its historical freeze. Your “liar” bird should be be called a “lemur” bird because of its tail.
    Each log you write is better. Keep sending them. You and Pernelli prove what an advantage it is for any country when newcomers report back to their own homelands what they see and hear. My favorite character was the Big Red Parrot who looks as big as a dog! Was he?


    1. yeah, that parrot looks big. photographs can lie, as we all know by now. the main thing was that he was only about 3 feet from me.


    1. thanks, karin. you’re next


  6. Oscar Morales says:

    Greetings! (Or should I say g’day)
    I confess I am a late comer to your blog. So I just finished a couple right now. They are very refreshing and delightful especially in these Covid Days. Please keep them coming. We are ensconced in Oakland CA these days. Send me an email response and I will share with you how and why we are here. Take care.

    Looking forward to your next post



    1. hi oscar,
      great to get your note. just finishing another blog post, which should be out in a few hours. interesting to hear you are in oakland. we often visit the bay area because tim becker (brother of mike becker, who was in our class at OLV) lives in fairview and we stay at his place. also, our daughter is going to begin grad school either at u-c-davis or at u-c-santa cruz in the fall. so it would be great if our paths cross again.
      looking forward to hearing your oakland story.


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